LONDON — Antonio Conte defended the caution he has shown with Chelsea’s record signing Alvaro Morata and revealed that the striker is ready to start against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley on Sunday.
Eyebrows were raised on the Premier League’s opening weekend when Conte opted to start with Morata on the substitutes’ bench and Michy Batshuayi up front against Burnley, who capitalised on Chelsea red cards for Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas to claim a shock 3-2 win at Stamford Bridge.
Morata provided one of the few positives of the match for Conte, replacing Batshuayi in the 59th minute and contributing a goal and an assist to Chelsea’s ultimately vain fightback from 3-0 down, and the Italian afterwards faced questions about why the £58 million signing from Real Madrid had not made his starting XI.
Speaking on Friday, Conte said that Morata is still working towards peak physical condition and insisted that he is willing to bench any player who is not ready to see big minutes, regardless of their price tag.
“If you remember Morata didn’t play regularly with Real Madrid last season because he was behind [Karim] Benzema,” the Chelsea coach said.
“Usually when you don’t play regularly you lose sometimes your performance, sometimes your quality in your physical condition. You need a bit of time to recover this.
“We want Morata to play regularly for Chelsea. My choices don’t depend on the [amount] of money. We can spend a lot of money for one player and then I put him on the bench, because I’m seeing this player is not ready to play. There is not a relation to see him start a game.”
Asked if Morata is ready to start against Spurs, Conte replied: “Morata is ready to start the game, yes. For sure. he needs to improve his physical condition and he needs a bit of time to reach the top, but he’s in contention for the game.
“Morata is a young player. He can stay in this club for many years to become a fantastic striker for this club.”
A more surprising talking point to emerge from the Burnley defeat was Conte’s decision to wear a club tracksuit on the touchline.
The Italian favoured a suit for much of last season’s run to the Premier League title, and his stark change in appearance prompted some suggestions that the choice of more casual matchday attire was a subtle attempt to communicate the frustration he is feeling at Chelsea.
Conte, however, revealed a far more innocent explanation.
“There is a reason, because I didn’t find a new house [in London yet] and I didn’t bring with me the suit [from Italy],” he said. “But now from Sunday [onwards], I wear again my suit.”
Sources have told ESPN FC that Conte’s wife and daughter remain living in Italy for the moment, but the expectation is that they will join the Chelsea coach in London when a suitable property is found.